Rick Baker says St. Petersburg’s quality of life worsened by Rick Kriseman’s spending

Tampa Bay Times
June 7, 2017
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As the final t’s were being crossed on May campaign donation figures, Rick Baker held another political fundraiser June 7 at the historic Princess Martha in downtown St. Petersburg.

The former two-term mayor spoke again of a seamless city that will unite Midtown with more prosperous neighborhoods. He promised to partner with failing city schools. He touted his practical environmentalism, highlighting his clean up of Lake Maggiore during his time as mayor between 2001 and 2010. He vowed to tackle the city’s homeless population by working with faith communities like the Catholic Church.

But what really animated Baker on Wednesday was playgrounds. He complimented Democratic council member Jim Kennedy, who endorsed the Republican former mayor, on his help in Baker’s goal to build a playground within a half-mile of every child in the city.

Playgrounds, Baker said, foster a sense of community among neighbors. By the time he had left office, Baker said, 85 percent of the city had a playground within a ½ mile of every child, including partnerships with schools, churches and neighborhood associations.

But Baker didn’t miss the opportunity to combine that warm, fuzzy image with a shot at incumbent Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman and what he characterized as reckless spending.

“To me it’s all about quality of life,” Baker said. “Whether it’s dog parks, skate board parks, rec centers … And the trouble is, if you’re $35 million over budget on the Pier and $35 million over budget on a police station, it’s very hard to do that stuff.”

Kriseman campaign manager Jacob Smith said the mayor makes no apologies for putting money towards policing.

“St. Pete has been moving in right direction since Rick Kriseman took office,” Smith said. “Crime is down and public safety is the number one priority of a mayor. And many other initiatives such as complete streets are dedicated to making St. Petersburg an even better place to live.”

Baker criticized the police department’s decision to reorganize its street crimes and auto theft units, saying a mayor needs to be focused on public safety.

The police union has endorsed Kriseman.

Unlike previous fundraisers, most of Baker’s comments came in response to questions from about 50 supporters who gathered on the second floor lounge area of the former hotel that is now a senior living facility.

Hosted by developers Darrly LeClair and Terry McCarthy, the event drew other big name Republicans like Ambassador and fundraiser Mel Sembler, council member Ed Montanari and restaurateur Steve Westphal.

cCarthy implored the crowd to donate money to the campaign.

“We’re trying to end this thing in August,” McCarthy said, referring to the Aug. 29 primary. If neither Baker nor Kriseman get 50 percent of the vote, the race will continue on to Nov. 7.

When someone asked about yard signs, Baker’s campaign broke the news that he had officially qualified for mayor and those signs would be soon be available.

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